An Open Letter to the Editors of Gourmet Magazine and One Ms. Marlynn Marroso of Brighton, Michigan

For the first time ever, I was disappointed by something I read in Gourmet magazine. It wasn't an ineffective recipe or mediocre essay, but rather, a letter to the editor written by a reader named Marlynn Marroso from Brighton, Michigan that was printed in the August 2009 issue.

In her letter, Ms. Marroso expresses dismay over the apparent excess of internationally-influenced recipes in the June 2009 issue. She asks sarcastically if she's expected to serve her friends "slab bacon adobo" or "refried black beans" as if the concept of doing so were completely absurd or even disgusting. "This is the United States of America, not Latin America," she notes by way of explanation for her disgust, and sardonically wonders if July readers looking to celebrate Independence Day will be subjected to "some great Mongolian or Ethiopian" recipe. She muses how in the past she would save each of Gourmet's "lovely issues," but notes that she will be "tossing out the June issue." Her reason that there is nothing in the issue worth saving is tacitly understood.

Readers have the freedom to think and write what they want, but it is up to the editors of the magazine to make the selection of which of the hundreds of letters they will print. These letters are selected and, as noted at the bottom of every issue, edited by staff. Most publications choose letters that show an equality of opinion and are representative of the many that they receive. They print both positive and negative letters, and sometimes respond to ones that pose a question or request further clarification. This is the first time, however, that I've come across a letter criticizing the magazine for, essentially, portraying too much diversity.

I understand that perhaps Gourmet was simply trying to allow "equal time" by choosing to print this letter, but in fact what they showed was a lack of judgment. Xenophobic and prejudiced people exist all over this country, but they certainly do not need to be provided with a soap box within the pages of a popular national magazine. On the most basic level, Ms. Marroso's letter lacked the clarity and organization of a well-thought out argument and should have been rejected on that basis alone. And her bigoted refusal to attempt what is quite possibly one of the most perfectly prosaic of all Mexican-influenced dishes, certainly did not merit the four-inches of space she was granted on that page.

Gourmet is a magazine that celebrates food and the experience of the "good life." Recipes both old and new, travel, restaurants, and traditions are all a part of this. Any reader, whether picking up the magazine for the first time, or a subscriber for 30 years, would instantly recognize this. Someone who finds the inclusion of a story about "El Barbecue," a popular tradition among Latin people living in, yes, the United States of America, offensive or who groans at the mere suggestion of trying an "Ethiopian" recipe, is reading the wrong magazine.

The idea that because this is a US-based magazine it should not feature recipes that are actually very deeply ingrained traditions for thousands of citizens of these United States is preposterous, offensive, and incredibly short-sighted. For many Americans, the recipes in the "El Barbecue" story are just as traditional to them as the homemade burgers on page 38 and the steak on the cover. Even if these were completely new recipes, discovered in the deepest reaches of the Amazon and never before heard of in the United States, they would be worth mentioning.

As a full-time magazine editor I know better than to print a letter that blatantly insults and dismisses a significant percentage of the readership. As a budding food writer with aspirations of one day seeing my own byline in Gourmet magazine, I understand the value of being within the pages of that magazine and can't believe that the editors that I respect so highly would have seen fit to include her words--even if only to make a point. Had it been up to me, I could have thought of quite a few ways to better fill that space.

For example, I might have chosen to remind Ms. Marroso that, with the possible exception of corn, nearly everything we eat in this country originated somewhere far away. That there was a time when extra virgin olive oil was not a staple at every dinner table. That pie, the quintessential American dish, originated in the filled flaky filo pastries of the Middle East. I would have pointed out that had it not been for a few clever traders passing through India, the Dutch would have never perfected the art of pickle-making and our all-American burgers would have been left seriously lacking. And (just for fun) I would have pointed out that the very word "gourmet," was appropriated from the language of a country an entire ocean away.

On Independence Day (the holiday whose menu seemed to cause Ms. Marroso much consternation), my boyfriend and I joined my family at a friend's condo in West New York, New Jersey. There, we spent the day watching the Mets play, winning thousands of imaginary dollars on a rerun of Jeopardy, and waiting for the Macy's fireworks to be displayed just a few feet away in the Hudson River. Our table was covered with a selection of alcapurrias, a traditional Puerto Rican yuca fritter filled with sauteed beef that my dad purchased at a nearby Cuban cafe. A guest brought flaky chicken empanadas and grilled Argentine churrasco. And our hostess, a native of Mexico, served us a platter of sliced cucumbers and mangoes served the way she grew up eating them, topped with sprinkles of salt and chile sauce. There were hot dogs, too, and a huge bowl of roasted peanuts. As the day waned and our bellies started once again to grumble, a few of us scrambled across the street to the newly-opened P.F. Chang's, returning with bags heavy with shrimp lo mein and oolong marinated sea bass.

The conversation throughout the day was a blend of English and Spanish, with a sprinkling of Russian when my Ukrainian-born boyfriend called home to speak to his parents. We drank Coca-Cola, Corona, and a couple bottles of Australian shiraz. Our hostess's dog, an adorable half German Shepard/half Chow, scrambled at our feet gobbling up the scraps that dropped to the ground. When the sun set, we grabbed our sweaters and walked down the street to the riverfront where we joined hundreds of other families staring up at the sky. My little brother, who completed five years of active duty in the United States Marine Corps just one year ago, winced visibly as the fireworks soared through the sky; the sound, he told us later, was exactly like that of the rockets that whistled through the sky during the year he served in Iraq. All around us, cameras flashed and families murmured and exclamations from the crowd rose up in a blend of Chinese, Spanish, French, and Arabic. The languages may have been different and the food might not have been "traditional," but the sentiment was absolutely united.

I have no idea what Ms. Marroso did for her Fourth of July, but I can assure you that it was no less American than my own.


UPDATE: Thank you all for your incredible support! If any of you would like to send your own letter to the editors of Gourmet to let them know how you feel about this, you can do so here: http://www.gourmet.com/contact/contact_the_editors

40 comments:

  1. Beautiful! I couldn't dream of saying it any better. I can't believe that Gourmet printed a letter like that -- and to make what point? That small-minded people who just want to read about "American" food are reading too? What on Earth is "American" food anyway, and I do use the quotation marks on purpose there -- is there anything that is really and truly something born right here in the US that didn't originate somewhere else?

    Really, that's pathetic.

    Coincidentally, I would love for Gourmet to include a story on Ethiopian traditions and recipes for making some dishes -- I happen to love that cuisine.

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  2. Very well said. I had not read the gourmet letter but the things she said shocked me.How she could be so close minded to think that this nation is not what it is today because of the many cultures that are here is beyond me. Our 4th of July was full of various kinds of food as well: hot dogs, burgers, chips and salsa, stuffed jalapenos,chicken teryiaki and spicy pepper steak. Not for one minute did I think that I was any less of an American because I included "non-traditional" dishes. I hope someone who knows Ms. Marroso reads this and forwards it to her, she could stand to learn a few things.

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  3. Very well written and beautifully put! Amen! I cannot believe how one of the most prestigious food magazines could have printed such a thing. That woman clearly needs a reality check because as you said, if it weren't for the French, The Arabs, the Latinos, the Italians, etc. American would be nothing. We a are a melting pot of cultures and her idea of America is not the right idea. Being so xenophobic is one thing, but saying that "this is the United States of America. Not Latin America" is not only xenophobic, but a sad excuse to say that America is too diversified. Because you know what? Nothing is too diversified. If it weren't for the immigrants that came from so many different countries, she wouldn't even have one of America's most beloved dishes- Pizza. Did she think about that? I think not.

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  4. Well done! Props for speaking out in response. You should send a copy of your post to Gourmet. See if they exercise such an even-handed "equal time" policy.

    Frankly, I'm shocked that such a letter was published. There really is little point in spouting that type of narrow-mindedness. It does little more than reflect the shallowness of the speaker, and unfortunately, that image has now been reflected on Gourmet.

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  5. That's appalling. She missed the point *entirely* of a celebration highlighting the diversity of the country.

    The fact that Gourmet published it is alarming. Is Palin-esque faux patriotism really a core segment of their readership?

    In any case, good for you for taking a stand against such bigotry.

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  6. Your response is everything that Ms. Marroso's wasn't - measured, erudite and well-informed. I feel only sadness for her that she is unable to free her mind and her tastebuds to the wonders of the global kitchen. Many thanks for writing this excellent piece!

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  7. yeah, it's a food magazine... they should stick to what they know and not try to make a statement by printing a letter like that... i bet the view was great from w. ny, btw.

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  8. Bravo - wait that isnt an 'american' word!

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  9. Well said, very well said. Thanks for having the guts to address this issue. I still can't believe Gourmet printed the letter too, it seems that it's just a sign that there are still people that are ignorant of other cultures and what being "American" means these days.

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  10. Alejandra, you rock! I think it is ironic that a citizen of a country that markets itself as a melting pot - both culturally and culinary - can display such a narrowminded way of thinking. I'm happy for America that it has representatives like you and your family.

    Also, it is 'funny' to read as an European. Even though Denmark has strong culinary traditions (hering, meatballs, and basically all kinds of pork), we can't stop borrowing from other countries. I still remember when my dad brought home the first avocados and kiwis, and when we started making italian food.

    Today, the national dish may in reality be some sort of bolognaise - not the standard meatballs. Same goes for Britain, where it might be the roast with yorkshire pudding that are named as the national dish, where in reality it's probably an Indian curry.

    My point is, Ms. Marroso with all she's lacking (openmindedness, imagination, creativity) is a poor citizen in a world that's getting smaller and has so much to offer culinary-wise. And she must be, I'm guessing, a poor cook as well.

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  11. Two things:

    A) Well done, young lady! Way to foster a decidedly American response to such pablum.

    #2) Why wasn't I invited to that yummy 4th of July celebration? I like the Mets AND all the food you mentioned!!

    :-)

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  12. Funny thing, Marroso does not sound like *very Authentic-American* (as if such thing) either!!!!!!!!!.....haha. The beauty of USA is the *melange* of different cultures and races, a country built by natives and immigrants from all over the world.

    Anyway, loved your open letter and loved the way you celebrate your 4th of July.

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  13. Well said and well written!!! Shame on Gourmet for printing that without a response, so very sad to hear how small minded people can be.

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  14. I didn't see the issue of Gourmet, but what you wrote was absolutely perfect in response! Sounds like you had a wonderful 4th!

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  15. I agree with you that the woman has a right to her opinion, and it is so far removed from my own that it makes me shake my head in wonder about her sheltered life.

    Did she choose to close herself off to the wonderful, diverse world around her? Why?

    As far as Gourmet printing the letter, perhaps they wanted to get some tongues wagging -- and they did.

    You wrote an extremely passionate, compelling and intelligent response. I hope the Gourmet editors read it. Well-done.

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  16. Thanks to Ms. Marroso and your blog, I'm heading out this evening to purchase what sounds like an issue full of recipes that my husband and I will absolutely love. We're American, world travelers, adventurous eaters, and the "typical" food that Ms. Marroso wants to see in the pages of Gourmet rates fairly low on our scale of great American eating.

    Brighton is a smaller city (population less than 7,000) an hour away from my home in Lansing. While it does have a few restaurants that feature different ethnic cuisines (Greek, Mexican and a soon-to-be born Japanese steakhouse), most of the local eateries are of the Applebees and Cracker Barrel varieties. Perhaps Ms. M has simply never had the opportunity or desire to step out of her culinary box and experience the wonderful variety of foods that make up America.

    Kudos on your blog & recipes. I just ran across it and will be trying out a number of the recipes (sadly reducing or substituting for some of the butter, heavy cream & bacon fat . . . oh to be 21 again and able to eat anything I wanted and never gain weight . . .)

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  17. Well, I'd put it the way my mother would: if Missy White Food doesn't like adobo (of any kind) and refried beans (of any kind): "ALL THE MORE FOR US!"

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  18. Good for you. Well-written, well-reasoned. One of the positive joys of being in a country as diverse as the US is the choice of cuisines to delight in and experiment with; I'm pretty much your standard European-stock mutt with a lot of Welsh and French, but I cook Japanese and German and the Cajun/Creole I grew up with in the south. Does that make me less American than Ms. Marroso? Not bloody likely.

    Congratulations to Gourmet Magazine for their diversity and their triumph over small-minded little people like Ms. Marroso; I doubt I'd find her table to be either satisfying or interesting.

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  19. Awesome letter! I agree, Gourmet shouldn't have printed the letter from Marroso. There are plenty of venues for bigotry and narrowmindedness as it is, no need to take up space in a widely-read magazine.

    Your 4th of July celebration sounds just as fabulous as mine, with food just as diverse.

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  20. I remember a few years ago when Gourmet had the cutest cupcake-adorned cake on its cover. For gawd knows what reason, it actually generated a good amount of hate mail. I remember asking Ruth Reichl about this, and she, too, was taken aback by the response. But I guess some people just thought cupcakes were too demeaning or too lowbrow to grace the cover of the magazine.

    Yes, Gourmet did print those letters, just as it did with the one you're referring to. The magazine's editors might not agree with the sentiment expressed in the letter, but it has a duty to present all sides of an issue. Well, as long as it's not blatantly inaccurate or profane. As a long-time journalist who also has been an editor, I know there have been times I've disagreed with a quote or letter to the editor. But that doesn't mean it doesn't have a right to be aired. That's what free speech is all about. We don't have to agree with every opinion. But we are lucky to live in a country where people can speak their minds. The price we pay for that freedom is that we sometimes hear things we don't necessarily like. But that's really a small price to pay for what we get in return.

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  21. I agree with Carolyn Jung on free speech. But the cupcake letter was just snobbery; sneering at Ethiopian or Mexican culture is just racism (please nobody try to make out the letter writer wasn't going there).

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  22. Hear hear! Good for you for distilling this so effectively. I am shocked that something so ignorant made it to the pages of that magazine.

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  23. BRAVO! As the child of a German father and an American mother, I was constantly asked which culture I liked better and which one I related to more-two questions that seemed to imply that these two parts of me had to be separated and could not coexist within a little girl. I knew that the reason I could never answer those questions wasn't due to the fact that I was a bad, half, or not even an American at all, but the result of people's inability to look beyond their own backyard. And as the faithful front page framer of Gourmet magazine it has always warmed my heart to see the flavors of my youth nestled side by side in its pages.

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  24. you don't think it was tongue-in-cheek? to illustrate how ignorant she was?

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  25. Hi,radish; it's the second letter of its type Gourmet published, within a few months. What is Gourmet trying to say? "This is a bad example?" "Aren't you glad we're not LIKE this person?" "Let's publish an annoying, narrow-minded letter and set off a flurry of controversy?" I'll bet that letter-writer has never enjoyed haggis, pork liver and onions or nettle soup. Now I'm feeling sorry for her.

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  26. Radish: I certainly don't think that the editors of Gourmet agreed with what the writer of the letter had to say, but I think that when not framed within the proper context, a letter like that can be incredibly problematic and offensive. While we might easily recognize it as being such, I'm certain that there are others that would not.

    There is a difference between printing a letter by someone who didn't like a particular lemon cake or who has had trouble finding ingredients in the recipes, and printing a letter by someone who objects on blatantly prejudiced grounds. The phrase about this being the US, not Latin America, is particularly offensive within that context. I'm certain Gourmet would never print a letter by a reader who used racist or derogatory epithets; a phrase like this one could be read with the same meaning.

    It is also worth pointing out that in this case, the complaint about the supposed excess of internationally influenced recipes was hardly valid. The issue was dedicated to grilling and boasted recipes from all over the US and around the world, and certainly offered recipes that would appeal to a variety of tastes. To oppose the inclusion of a handful of Hispanic recipes within one issue is absurd and clearly points towards the personal prejudices of the author.

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  27. Is Palin-esque faux patriotism

    And you call this Palin-esque why?

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  28. How very well written. IN defense of the Gourmet editors, my immediate thought was that they purposely published that letter because they KNEW there would be hundreds of responses. That type of letter sparks readers that may never write in to voice their opinion. And that my friend, makes for good reading. I'm willing to bet that there will be several responses printing in the next issue ;)

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  29. Brava, Alejandra! Well said ... I'm so happy that I read this post. Good for you!

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  30. I finally had time to open my issue of Gourmet tonight and was appalled at this letter too! So glad to see that I'm not the only one who thought Marlynn Marroso's letter was bigoted and small-minded. What will she serve her guests? I guess not the Ultimate Burger with homemade buns from page 40, the grilled skirt steak and arugula salad from page 49, the penne with grilled portabellas from page 50, the peach-lacquered chicken wings from page 56, or the lime-cury rubbed hanger steak from page 60... She claims to have been an off and on subscriber for 30 years? Mostly OFF, I'd say.

    Thanks for your excellent open letter and for giving me somewhere to vent my own irritation!

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  31. Thank you for your open letter. You said it very well. I worry about the level of open hatred and bigotry that some people seem to feel is ok.

    I'm also laughing here, because 'Marroso' sounds like an Italian name. My own is Irish. I'm thinking that unless your name is "Golden Eagle" or something similar, you're probably not REALLY American... whatever that means.

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  32. So wonderfully expressed. I didn't read the letter to the editor, but I already know I don't want to read it, and I am grateful my time was better spent reading your insightful response.

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  33. I was also a bit surprised to see this strong of a reaction to a barbecue in Gourmet (my first thought was, damn, I'm making that bacon adobo) but you should've seen the angry letters in response the Latin American-themed September 2007 issue. Crazies.

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  34. Cooking techniques aside, what would we be missing if no "furriners" had brought their food here..These items were not indigenous to what is now "The United States": chocolate, coffee, tea, coconut, cinnamon, vanilla, soy, olives, tomatoes, potatoes, citrus, CATTLE, scotch, rum, vodka, sherry, port, bananas, white rice, cashews, brazil nuts, avocados, pistachios (oh-oh, there we go with the middle-east!). The list is endless. What a boring diet we would have. No pasta, no pesto, no pizza for what sound like an Italian name to me.

    Living in the Southwest, we see this nasty racism everyday. The reader forgets that Arizona, California, et al were once part of Mexico!

    Our food, like our citizens, is simply an amalgam of everything, and mostly the good things!

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  35. Given that print media is a dying animal, I have to agree with several others who have already opined that Gourmet may have intentionally printed this letter in an attempt to pump up interest/readership. I am not a regular reader of the magazine (in fact, that was the first issue I have ever read, and so my first thought upon reading Ms. Marroso's letter was, "Wow, who knew a cooking magazine would inspire such anger!"), but I have to believe that any national magazine receives enough letters to have plenty to choose from. Pretty bush league, Gourmet...

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  36. beautiful post. i'm a bit late commenting on this one, but i couldn't help thinking about the thanksgiving my housemates & i hosted in 2007 - in australia for starters, and with 35 people from six continents (just needed an elusive antarctic research scientist). we were even magnanimous enough to invite some canadians.

    cheers to global citizenship!

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  37. Alejandra, thank you! I've been using Gourmet magazine to write a blog of my own and I wanted to respond to this letter by Ms. Marroso's as well. Now I don't have to, because you said all I wanted to so beautifully. What I appreciated most about your letter was the tact and insight that you applied in your response, when it would have been so easy to be insulting.

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  38. Well put! I couldn't have said it better myselft. Shame on you Marlynn Marosso shame!

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  39. I'm shocked that I Googled this bigot and found she won an award for community service as a nursing instruction for UoM.

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